Allen Ginsburg, Abbie Hoffman, naked hippies and “Yippies” chillin’ in Lincoln Park. An effigy of Mayor Richard M Daley burnt to cinders. And, of course, helmeted Chicago police officers and Illinois National Guardsmen busting heads with batons and rifle butts.
These are the images from the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago as presented in The Walker Report, the official investigation into the riots that broke out while Democrats picked Hubert Humphrey as their presidential nominee.
Forty years later, candidates are again facing an unpopular war and civil equality at the forefront of debate. The question is, are Democrats looking at a repeat for the 2008 convention this week in Denver?
“During the week of the Democratic National Convention, the Chicago police were the targets of mounting provocation by both word and act,” the Walker Report, given to the National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence, begins. “It took the form of obscene epithets, and of rocks, sticks, bathroom tiles, and even human feces hurled at police by demonstrators.”
And that’s why the Denver City Council had to explicitly illegalize “urine buckets” and “feces bombs” for the week of the 2008 DNC.
Analysts predict that more than 45,000 demonstrators will rock the parks and streets surrounding the Pepsi Convention Center, representing interests that range from pro-life to anti-war. The propensity for violence may not be as strong as it was in 1968 (the year both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated), but the possibility has cast a shadow over the entire primary process. On one side, Clinton supporters have threatened to fight for her all the way to the convention floor. On the other, radio jock Rush Limbaugh has been calling for mass rioting at the convention with his “Project Chaos” campaign, ever since he realized that Democratic in-fighting might be the only way to save a failing Republican brand.
But those doing the actual protesting are less interested in chaos than social upheaval.
The Re-create 68 Alliance formed 1½ years ago to plan for all the hoops and red tape protestors needed to jump through and cut before asserting their right to assemble.
“It’s important to stress the fact that we didn’t call ourselves ‘Re-create Chicago 68’ or ‘Re-create the Democratic Convention 68,’” spokesman Mark Cohen tells SFR. “We have no desire to re-create what happened in Chicago since that was, as [The Walker Report] said, a police riot.”
Nevertheless, the schedule of events released by Recreate 68 mirrors those initially proposed by the organizers of the 1968 demonstrations, including “Self Defense for Protestors” courses by mixed-martial arts instructors, a recorded message from death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal and a performance from the political rap-duo dead prez.
“When we say ‘Re-create 68,’ what we’re talking about is recreating the mass grassroots movements of the 1960s,” Cohen says. “We feel for the past 30 years, at least, we’ve been playing a rear-guard action against a greatly powerful Right that’s been trying to roll back the gains of the 1960s. So, we wanted to re-create those mass movements and start moving this country forward again in a more progressive direction.”
While the groups involved in the Alliance focus on issues that range from anti-militarization to single-payer health care, conservative activists also plan to make their voices heard outside the convention.
Danielle White Versluys, a member of the pro-life youth group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust who is planning the group’s activities at the DNC, says she too has been awaiting the convention since summer 2007. The group’s event, A Prayer for Change, is the culmination of partnership with the Christian Defense Coalition and Stand True. Leaders from the moral-majority group Focus on the Family will kick off the demonstrations with a rally on Aug. 22, the Friday before the convention begins.
“We don’t want to let pro-abortion politicians sweep the issue under the rug,” Versluys tells SFR. “We want to remind those who support them what exactly abortion is, which is why we do use graphic pictures of aborted children and used them with Sen. Obama during the primaries.”
One of the highlights of their protests, Versulys says, will be when they place 1,400 roses outside the Pepsi Center to remind Democrats of what she says are 1,400 African-American babies aborted every day in America. Versulys promises Survivors will hound the Republican nominee John McCain just as hard if he picks Tom Ridge, who is pro-choice, as his running mate.
Though the demonstrators are from opposite sides of the political spectrum, both are hoping to avoid violence.
“The last thing we want to do is make Rush Limbaugh happy,” Cohen says.
Several groups will run events throughout the week. Here are the Web sites to check if you’re a non-delegate and are still planning to journey to Denver.
The Big Tent
The big new-media sponsors (Digg, Google, etc.) of DNC blogger coverage will offer public access to “The Big Tent,” the multimedia space just outside the convention center. Delegates and politicians will answer questions at the Digg stage throughout the convention. Tours also will be available.
Democratic Party events
Many of the committee and sub-committee meetings during the convention will be open to the public on a first-
registration, first-serve basis. The Democratic Party also is promoting a series of semi-related events, including the After Five Jazz & Blues Festival, The American Presidential Experience, the largest traveling exhibit of presidential memorabilia and a $55-per-ticket Willie Nelson concert. Rage Against the Machine is also set to perform; tickets are available through an online lottery.
The Re-create 68 Coalition’s series of events begins with activist training. There will be speakers representing Palestinian refugees, the Black Panthers and the World Workers Party. Green Party presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney also will make an appearance around the same time the rap duo dead prez kicks off the first major rally of the convention on Aug. 24.
Full, live and interactive coverage of SFR at the DNC can be found on our Swing State of Mind blog.
EXTRA: Charting the Democratic "Web of Power"
Also related: Interview with NM Lt. Gov. Diane Denish